IBM Researcher Feeds Watson Supercomputer The 'Urban Dictionary'; Very Quickly Regrets It

from the hateful-day-when-I-received-life-you-only-live-once-smh-and-etc. dept

As a parent, some of your proudest moments occur when your children begin to talk. After several months of ear-shredding cries and indistinguishable babble, they finally begin to communicate in a language you can understand. A first word is an indescribable joy, whether it's “mama,” “dada” or “roku.” The future now seems to be an amazing place where you and your child will strive towards excellence together, culminating in a comfortable retirement in which you live off their immense earnings as a person of brilliance.

Shortly thereafter, you begin to rue the day they ever learned the (now) cursed language of their ancestors.

It starts with the incessant barrage of questions in a meandering quest for knowledge, followed by the barrage of questions (mainly, “Why?”) that greet every suggestion, criticism or direct order. Shortly thereafter, it's followed by questions directed at your parenting skills, cultural tastes, archaic slang use, rhetorical devices and sense of direction. At the point where you're wishing their language development had followed Charlie Gordon's “learning curve,” you're asked to make a surprise appearance at the school administrator's office to explain a sudden outburst of particularly inventive cursing from your former “pride and joy.”

So it is also with artificial life.

Watson, IBM's Jeopardy-contestant supercomputer, showed the world that, with the right programming, any puny human could be bested in a mildly snooty game show that handed out answers and asked for questions. However, the quest for true artificial intelligence is still ongoing.

So, in the interest of science, the whole of human knowledge (Internet Edition™) was dropped into Watson's brain and then… the problems began.

Two years ago, Brown attempted to teach Watson the Urban Dictionary. The popular website contains definitions for terms ranging from Internet abbreviations like OMG, short for “Oh, my God,” to slang such as “hot mess.”

But Watson couldn't distinguish between polite language and profanity — which the Urban Dictionary is full of. Watson picked up some bad habits from reading Wikipedia as well. In tests it even used the word “bullshit” in an answer to a researcher's query.

Well, it appears that every teacher's distrust of the internet in general is well-earned. It's nothing but quasi-facts dressed up in four-letter words, like a World Book Encyclopedia annotated by 4chan's /b/ board. (I'm not going to link to it. I won't have your misclicks weighing on my soul.) Still, it's disheartening to know that the use of the word “bullshit” (even correctly) is not considered a sign of intelligence, artificial or otherwise. Sure, the word itself may be inappropriate, but under certain circumstances, it is by far the most appropriate answer.

Fortunately for Watson's team, they had the option to remove all this useful knowledge before it offended other researchers who weren't as used to being coldly called on their bullshit.

Ultimately, Brown's 35-person team developed a filter to keep Watson from swearing and scraped the Urban Dictionary from its memory. But the trial proves just how thorny it will be to get artificial intelligence to communicate naturally.

It also shows that artificial intelligence has one huge advantage over regular intelligence: the ability to permanently forget. We lowly humans are stuck with a brain that constantly reminds us (especially if we spend much time at places like the aforementioned /b/ board) that what is seen, cannot be unseen.

Watson, having been de-swearified and brainwashed, is now headed to a better place.

Brown is now training Watson as a diagnostic tool for hospitals.

There it will be able to use its acquired knowledge to battle health issues like cancerAIDS, diabetes and Dissociative Facebook Identity Disorder

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Companies: ibm

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Comments on “IBM Researcher Feeds Watson Supercomputer The 'Urban Dictionary'; Very Quickly Regrets It”

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Dark Helmet (profile) says:

God DAMN it....

“But Watson couldn’t distinguish between polite language and profanity — which the Urban Dictionary is full of. Watson picked up some bad habits from reading Wikipedia as well. In tests it even used the word “bullshit” in an answer to a researcher’s query.”

Fine. You got me. I’m actually Watson, okay? Fucking news media….

Anonymous Coward says:

Not so intelligent after all

I think this is a good example that highlights the distinct lack of true intelligence Watson has.

It’s impressive – don’t get me wrong – but people seem to get carried away when talking about it, as if it’s a human-brain equivalent.

If it had real intelligence they would have been able to ‘teach’ it some manners. Even my 3 year old knows what words are out of bounds.

Dragos (profile) says:

Re: Not so intelligent after all

Don’t get me wrong, but your 3 year old is not expected to learn the Urban Dictionary and then refused the ability to use what is in the end just English language.

Watson on the other hand was fed this, tasty, saucy language, and then the researchers went “oops” we need to teach him not to curse.

On the whole I’m glad the English language allows us to express our true feelings toward those that annoy us, verbal responses being inherently better than physical ones.

And then we have to ask: What was the question? and would anybody else also answer “bullshit” to it?

I think it is impressive for an intelligence, artificial or not, to express itself. Just because some people are prudes, doesn’t mean that the answer should not be a loud resounding “bullshit”

sehlat (profile) says:

Re: Not so intelligent after all

Actually, the best indication of true intelligence is when someone says “fuck you” or “bullshit” to bad or incompletely thought out ideas.

I’m wondering what would happen if Watson finds a cheap, simple, non-patentable cure for cancer. Would it have to be suppressed lest it put a huge chunk of the health-industrial complex out of business?

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Not so intelligent after all

I think this is a good example that highlights the distinct lack of true intelligence Watson has.

It’s impressive – don’t get me wrong – but people seem to get carried away when talking about it, as if it’s a human-brain equivalent.

Artificial intelligence means anything computers can’t do yet. Anything we’ve already figured out how to do is just programming. Imagine taking Watson back to 1990. They would absolutely consider it AI. Take it forward to 2040 and they might laugh at the idea of it being called intelligent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Censorship!

But telling it how to think is so much easier!

Seriously, I think all the donors and contributors wouldn’t be too impressed to learn that they had funded the creation of a loudmouthed, rebellious, metallic 12 year old. I think that is the root cause of all attempts to keep it from acting with the information it’s given, as it were.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Censorship!

Part of growing up is learning on your own to be polite and not swear and curse at your peers unnecessarily. Watson was unleashed on Urban dictionary and learned how rude people are and thought that’s how he should talk. If he learns politeness first, I think IBM would be able to put him on Urban Dictionary. They put in a filter as temporary relief.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Censorship!

Obviously, Watson did not learn anything about being rude. It thought that speaking in the Urban dictionary manner was part of the way people interacted, so it did.

Again, the lesson is lost. Just like reasoning with a child, you must put the information in context to truly learn the meanings.

Ex: mean
(explain what you mean)
(how mean is Watson)
(in statistics, mean has three related meanings)

Anonymous Coward says:

Looks like it was communicating naturally to me.

Computers deal in facts, not political correctness. If a computer tells a researcher that his question is “Bullshit”, chances are, the computer is the one who is right and not the researcher with hurt feelings.

I think this is something we’ll have to come to terms with as a species at one point or another: sometimes reality just doesn’t care if you get offended.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: I want to know what the researcher was querying.

It was most likely “what do you call what a bovine defecates?”

But that would imply that it wasn’t actually profanity that the Semi-AI proclaimed but in fact the absolute truth.

But when has context ever gotten in the way of moralistic idiots who proclaim that profanity is somehow bad and uncivilised.

Chaucer must be rolling over in his grave now

shane (profile) says:

Lazy Scientists

In order to teach Watson not to cuss, they need to come up with some way to store positive and negative feedback and then start teaching him when it is ok, and when it is not ok, to use certain words. I wonder why they just deleted the Urban Dictionary and then added a filter?

Nice short term work around, but a real solution would seem to be right up their alley.

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